White Sox third-base coach Joe McEwing stood almost motionless, bent over at the waste, hands on his knees and staring at second base. And Jordan Danks, the pinch-runner who was picked off second by the Houston closer to finish out a 4-3 Astros victory, could only argue with second-base umpire Dana DeMuth that his left hand hit the base before shortstop Ronny Cedeno tagged Danks' upper arm.
Much like the 2013 season for the White sox (28-37), Danks presented a losing argument.
"It's like we're finding new ways to do it," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of his team's third straight loss and second consecutive in this four-game wraparound series against the American League's worst team.
"It [stinks] losing. I don't know how else to put it," said White Sox starter John Danks of this latest crushing setback. "Yeah, it [stinks]. I'm sorry I don't know what else to say."
The older of the two Danks' brothers was pretty solid over six-plus innings, getting touched up for four runs on five hits, while striking out five and walking one. Danks' string of consecutive batters retired, dating back to last Saturday's start against the A's, ended in the second inning at 26 when he hit Carlos Pena with a 2-2 changeup. Cedeno followed with a run-scoring double to left-center.
Home runs by Jason Castro, on an 0-2 fastball, and one-time White Sox Minor Leaguer Chris Carter, off a changeup, raised Houston's advantage to 3-1 in the fourth. It jumped to 4-1 in the fifth on a run-scoring double from Brandon Barnes.
When Danks (1-3) walked Pena to open the seventh, he was done at just 76 pitches. Reliever Matt Lindstrom kept the Astros off the board with the help of Cedeno's double-play grounder back to the mound, but the usually upbeat Danks showed restraint postgame when responding directly that the early departure is not his decision to make.
"I'm healthy. I feel good," Danks said. "I just do what I'm told. That's part of it."
"I'd like to leave him in there, but with the righties coming in there, we need a double-play ball and Lindstrom's that guy," Ventura said. "Normally, I'm not going to pull a guy in that spot, but we needed a ground ball to keep it close. It's just one of those decisions you have to make."
Trailing by one run in the eighth inning, Alexei Ramirez quickly became the tying run by leading off with a double to right-center off reliever Paul Clemens. He stayed at second when Clemens fanned Alex Rios, moved to third on Adam Dunn's groundout off reliever Wesley Wright and after an intentional walk to Paul Konerko, Hector Ambriz retired pinch-hitter Jeff Keppinger on a grounder to short.
There was the offensive shortcoming that has plagued the White Sox throughout the season. The baserunning blunder by Jordan Danks was kind of a new-fangled heartbreaker. Veras (13th save) walked Dayan Viciedo to open the ninth, and Danks reached second via a stolen base. With two outs and Alejandro De Aza at the plate, Veras never had to throw a pitch to the left-handed-hitting leadoff man.
"I saw they [middle infielders] were both way off, so I got a little bigger [lead]," Jordan Danks said. "I looked over at Joe and he was saying, 'Get a big lead. You're coming around, no matter what, if the ball gets in play.' Just one of those things."
"You practice plays like that in Spring Training," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "Lo and behold, you get this deep into the season and it ends up being a very big play in a win."
Lucas Harrell (5-7), who began his professional career with the White Sox just like Carter, earned the victory by striking out seven and walking one in 6 2/3 innings. Dunn homered off Harrell in the seventh, while Gordon Beckham doubled home a run in that same frame. But Tyler Flowers' single up the middle was smothered by second baseman Jose Altuve and kept on the infield, giving Clemens a chance to enter the game, strike out De Aza and strand runners on the corners.
Ventura was asked postgame about possible moves on the horizon if the White Sox don't start winning, as well as the team's 1-11 run on the road, with his squad being outscored 66-37 during that stretch. Judging by Ventura's response, his only focus remains fixing this team.
"They're hard anywhere right now," said Ventura of his team's horrid road slump. "It doesn't matter where we're at. We've got to focus on winning games. It doesn't matter if we're at home or in Europe, we've got to win games.
"I'm focused more on what we're doing here than thinking about that stuff. We just have to clean it up. Once you figure out one thing, something else happens. You just stay focused on what you're doing."